Job Talk Alternatives?

The hour-long job talk is the market standard measure of a candidate’s presentation skills.  As Solove explained,  “[i]t begins with the candidate lecturing for about 20 to 30 minutes and is followed by about 30 minutes of Q&A.”  There are advantages to this format: it permits the candidate to get his or her thesis on the table before being interrupted by faculty, who, being who they are, aren’t accustomed to listening to other people talk and who would otherwise interrupt with the first thought that pops into their heads.  There are disadvantages as well — a shorter 20 minute grace period may be insufficient to make any particularly complex argument; a longer 30-40 minute speech risks boring the room.  Plus, to the very limited extent that the job talk is a good predictor of how well a candidate will teach, longer talks are particularly unrepresentative of a well-functioning and open classroom.

I thought I’d ask the audience whether they know of truly different models.  I know that in 2004, when I was on the market, Lewis and Clark had candidates speak to a full room of students and faculty (75+), with no constraints that I can recall on the Q&A.  (My god did I bombed that talk!)  Conversely, I’ve heard that some schools permit questioning from the first minute, but insist that all comments until the 30 minute mark be merely clarifying.  Whether and how that rule is enforceable is beyond my ken.  Some schools are rumored to entirely ban powerpoint.  Others, I hear, ask the candidates to teach as if they were talking to a classroom of law students.

But these are largely rumors.  Does anyone know of different models and have thoughts about what works particularly well?

I’ll add that I’d prefer that the thread not devolve into a criticism of the idea of job talks — though I agree with the critique in many respects.

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9 Responses

  1. Duder says:

    Dave,

    I am now starting to prepare my job talk, and am probably going to do the standard 15-20 minute synopsis of key points, followed by Q&A (Without having actually mapped out my presentation yet, I think I would like one on the shorter side, as I’d prefer to keep the room engaged if possible, and show my mastery of the subject matter).

    However, I was wondering if anyone has tried something more unique, such as maybe unveiling the Socratic method and primarily using that, or some such. Would that be too risky? Or would it be seen as interesting, innovative, and refreshing? I guess a large part of the answer lies in how well you do (and clearly the latter would be trickier to pull off).

  2. Ken Rhodes says:

    A non-lawyer non-teacher comment:

    “faculty, who, being who they are, aren’t accustomed to listening to other people talk and who would otherwise interrupt with the first thought that pops into their heads.”

    Hmmm … “faculty?” Doesn’t that sentence describe everybody?

  3. Orin Kerr says:

    My sense is that the big variable is a matter of culture, and specifically on whether the audience can interrupt to ask questions from the beginning.

    FWIW, I tend to think that it’s wrong to allow faculty to interrupt entry-level candidates in their initial presentation, but then I had one job talk that was disastrous in large part because of that: One professor interrupted my talk to express her view, at length, that I didn’t respect civil liberties enough. It was about a 5 minute lecture against “you people” that didn’t actually contain a question, and that left me rather flustered as I tried to figure out if I should respond, how, and what I was supposed to do.

  4. Orin Kerr says:

    Duder,

    I think that would be a major mistake. The point of the Socratic Method is to ask questions of an audience that pushes them question their understanding and sharpen their reasoning. In contrast, the point of a paper presentation is to showcase your brilliance and establish your ability to answer the audience’s questions.

  5. TJ says:

    I think it depends on culture, but in a different way than Orin posits. At George Mason we give candidates maybe 2 minutes of grace time. But that is not because the faculty “aren’t accustomed to listening to other people talk” and “interrupt with the first thought that pops into their heads.” It is because we have read the paper, and there is no point listening to someone repeat it for 20 minutes. If you give candidates 20 minutes, I would imagine it basically impossible to persuade faculty to read the paper ahead of time, since anyone who has read the paper would be bored out of their minds that first 20 minutes.

  6. anon says:

    I am curious if any schools employ alternative job talk models for non-doctrinal candidates (i.e., clinicians and legal writing positions)?

  7. Howard Wasserman says:

    We have clinicians do a presentation on the clinic and their vision or approach to running the clinic. We have legal-writing profs teach a mock class on case briefing/analysis.

  8. Orin Kerr says:

    TJ,

    Of course there’s a reason to hear someone repeat it for 20 minutes: The candidates are interviewing for a *teaching* position, and the 20 minute presentation gives the audience an opportunity to assess the speaker’s ability to present material in a coherent, straightforward, and entertaining way — that is, for the audience to assess that person’s ability to *teach.* That’s the traditional thinking, at least.

    As for getting people to read the paper, I don’t sense it’s a significant problem: The faculty has to vote on the candidate anyway, and they can’t assess the quality of the candidate’s scholarship just from a 15 minute introductory. They have to read the paper for that, so they’ll generally do it before the talk.

  9. TJ says:

    Orin, I can see that logic, though I would be skeptical of it if for no other reason than the fact that we almost never teach in the format of a 20 minute presentation uninterrupted by questions. Saying more would start diverting the thread into the topic of whether the job talk is helpful to evaluation teaching, which Dave explicitly asked us not to do. At the same time, I don’t think we can evaluate whether a format “works well” unless we have some agreement first about the purposes of the job talk, and it seems there are at least some differing assumptions on the relative weights to be given to different priorities (evaluating the paper, evaluating broader scholarship ability, getting people to read the paper, evaluating teaching, etc.).